Seated on an area of about 370km2 at an altitude between 1,220m – 1,828m above sea level, in Kiruhura district; southwestern part of Uganda, L. Mburo NP is the smallest of Uganda’s savannah national parks. The Park lies along Kampala-Mbarara highway, about 30 km (19 miles) east of Mbarara city and about 240 km (150 miles) west of Kampala; Uganda’s capital and largest city. It is the closest national park from Uganda’s capital and the main international airport at Entebbe, making it ideal of the short time visitors who wish to enjoy a Uganda safari.
The Park derives its name from the largest lake in the area; L. Mburo, which together with 13 other lakes form a 50km-long wetland system interlinked by swamps. Only 5 of these 13 lakes are with in the park’s boundaries and form the major water sources for the wildlife in this park.
Mburo NP can be accessed through 2 main gates; the Nshaara and Sanga gates. Both gates are about 20 mins drive away from the park’s main headquarters at Rwonyo hill. 20% of all the gate collections is given to the neighboring communities to support them in improving livelihoods
Mburo NP lies in the rain shadow area between L. Victoria and the Rwenzori mountains. It is with in the Ankore-Masaka dry corridor that experiences long dry spells and minimal rainfall throughout the year which has partly made the area to have a low water table. It is on this basis that the park is largely dominated by woodland and open grassland savannah vegetation.
The Park experiences a bimodal rainfall pattern, with heavy rains between March and June, and then Nov. The rains are usually erratic in other months but April, May and Nov are usually the wettest months. The average rainfall received in this area in a year is about 800mm. The average temperature of this area is about 26° C with daily variations ranging between 14° C to 32° C. August and September are the hottest months although December and January are also usually very hot.
Mburo NP’s precarious past has seen it survive through great threats of wildlife depletion on a number of occasions. From the attempts to get the area rid of tsetse flies, to the introduction of ranches and later to illegal poaching, wildlife species in this area have survived through some of the most threatening times.
This area was initially inhabited by the Banyankore-Bahima pastoralists whose major economic activity was cattle rearing. These co-existed with the wildlife species of this area though in constant but manageable conflict since pre-colonial era.
It was initially gazetted as a controlled hunting area in 1933 by the colonial government and was upgraded to a game reserve status in 1963 although cattle herders continued to encroach on the land. In 1983, the Obote 2 government further elevated it to a national park and evicted the cattle keepers, a move that was partly seen by the locals as a way of punishing them for the support they were giving to the NRA rebels at the time.
Since the evicted pastoralists were not compensated for the loss of their grazing land and no efforts were made to re locate them, they remained hostile to the establishment and at the fall of Obote 2 government in 1985, the land was re occupied, park staff expelled and infrastructure destroyed which intensified human-animal conflict that led to a significant depletion of wildlife in the park.
When the NRM government took over power in 1986, there were efforts to re instate the National Park but only less than a half of the land was gazzetted as the rest was divided into ranches to resettle those who had faced eviction in the previous government and those that had lost their property during the 5- year bush war.
With the stability and security, the country has enjoyed since then, the park has witnessed incredible wildlife recovery to date. The Park now boasts of about 68 mammal species and 350 bird species including some endemics.
MYTHOLOGICAL ORIGIN OF THE NAME
Like all names in Africa have meanings and their origins, L. Mburo is not any different. Traditional Africans named places or things depending on the prevailing circumstances of the time or certain big events of the time. According to mythology, two brothers; Kigarama and Mburo lived in a big valley in this area where they shared a big chant of communal grazing land. One night, Kigarama had a dream about a tragedy that was yet to befall their homestead. In the morning he tipped off his brother and reiterated the need to shift to a safe place since he believed the dream to be a fore warning.
It is said, Kigarama went on to shift his family to a nearby hill while Mburo hesitated and remained. According to the tale, that very night, there was a hail storm that flooded the valley drowning Mburo and all his homestead including his cows and family.
The valley remained flooded and became a lake which was named after Mburo, while the hill where Kigarama shifted to was later also named after him and it is still there to date.
GEOLOGICAL AND HABITAT COMPOSITION
Mburo National Park is underlain by primordial Precambrian metamorphic rocks that date back more than 500 million years. The area also contains granite, argillite, arenite and silty rocks. The soils are mostly sandy loam and sandy clay which have facilitated growth of a variety of plant species, with most of them thick and short.
Initially, the park was an open grassland savannah but due to the absence of elephants to tame the vegetation, most of the area is now covered by woodland shrubs of acacia species. The rich mosaic habitat diversity accounts for the enormous flora and fauna species. Habitat ranges from open grassland and woodland savannah, to the rock out crops, swampy valleys, tropical forests and a cluster of lakes.
In the western part of the park, the savanna is interspersed with forested gorges and rocky ridges whereas blotches of papyrus swamps and thin bands of lush riparian woodland surround many lakes.
The Rubanga forest on the western side of the lake is popular for its closed canopy and home to some forest birds including, Green Pigeon, Grey-backed Cameroptera, Narina Trogon, Harrier Hawk and Double-toothed Barbet.
The Park is home to about 68 mammal species including Impala antelope that is endemic to this area in the whole of Uganda. Other common sightings include the Burchel’s zebra; found only here and in Kidepo, the recently re-introduced Roth child’s giraffe, herds of buffaloes, Eland; the largest land antelope, and topis. Other common species include; warthog, buffalo, oribi, Defassa waterbuck and reedbuck. Carnivores include among others, leopard, Jackal and hyenas, while schools of hippos can be seen around the lakes as crocodiles busk on the lake shores sun bathing during hot afternoons.
The swampy shrubs of the park are home to the elusive sitatunga antelope, while the rock kopjes shelter the rare klipspringer.
The Park was also home to lions previously but they later faced extinction due to hunting and poison by the cattle herders living around the park as they accused them of killing their livestock. Around 2015, a male lion that was believed to have escaped from Tanzania, was spotted around the park and later paused a threat to human lives after attacking and injuring 3 people. The Uganda wildlife was forced to kill or relocate the lion by the enraged community.
Mburo National Park is also home to about 350 bird species according to Uganda Wildlife Authority records, some of which are endemic to this park including the Red-faced barbet and the African finfoot.
The park’s rich habitat diversity has favored the existence of both savannah woodland species and the forest bird species. Some of the bird species recorded in the park include; the rare shoebill, Papyrus Yellow Warbler, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, African-wattled Lapwing, Saddle-billed Stork, Hairy-breasted Barbet, Brown-chested Lapwing, Carruther’s Cisticola, African Scops Owl, Tabora (Long-tailed) Cisticola, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, White-winged Warbler and Abyssinian Ground Hornbill among others.
With such a diversity of bird and animal life and a myriad of vegetation zones, it is with no doubt that L. Mburo is often referred to as ‘the whispers of the wild’.
There are a number of activities one can take part in while visiting L. Mburo NP. Some activities are done with in the park while others are outside the park boundaries.
Mburo NP is a haven for birders with about 350 recorded bird species. Most notable birding sites in the park include; the Warukiri and Miriti swampy valleys, and the roadsides along the road to Rwonyo camp. The Rubanga Forest and the viewing plat forms at the salt lick are other good spots for birding.
Some of the Species that can be observed at these locations include the Rufous-bellied Heron, Coqui Francolin, Grey Crowned Crane, Bateleur, Black-bellied Bustard, Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Brown-chested Lapwing, Ross’s Turaco, Brown Parrot, Red-headed Lovebird, Common Scimitar bill, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Green Wood-hoopoe, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, White-headed Barbet, Red-faced Barbet, Nubian Woodpecker, Long-tailed Cisticola, White-winged Tit, Yellow-breasted Apalis, and Finfoot among others.
A guided visit to Rubanga forest may reward you with sights of forest birds including rare red-faced barbet that is endemic to L. Mburo NP. Arrangements for this visit should be made prior with the park management.
With its rich mammal diversity of about 68 species recorded, game drives in L. Mburo NP may offer the best opportunities to see a cross section of these species. The Park has a rich network of trails traversing its woodlands, swampy fields, grassy hillsides, seasonal flooded valleys and rock out crops where most of the wildlife can be viewed.
These trails are named after the common animals that can be sighted along them. They include among others; zebra track, impala track, Warukiri track and the eland track which is the most challenging during rainy seasons. Other tracks include; the Research track, Lake side track which leads to the top of Kigarama hill that offers panoramic views of L. Mburo. The Ruroko track leads you to the top of Kazuma look out that provides beautiful vistas of all the 5 lakes in the park.
The best viewing times of the wildlife would be in the early mornings and late afternoons. During a game drive via the mentioned tracks, one may be able to see warthogs, impalas, zebras, buffaloes, elands, hyenas, leopards and jackals among many others. Unlike in other parks where leopards can only be spotted in trees, here leopards are sometimes seen on the ground or resting on top of termite mounds as there is less competition to scare them into their hiding since the only competitors here are hyenas.
A night game drive with an armed ranger may reward you with sights of leopards, jackals, hyenas and popular nocturnals like white tailed mongoose, bush babies and pottos. Remember to book this in advance such that a guide is prepared for you as well as a spotlight. Since not all animals can be seen during the day, this is your only opportunity to look out for bush pigs and genet cats among others as you drive through with your spotlight.
The 2 hrs cruise on L. Mburo may reward any visitor with beautiful views of hippos and crocodiles that often populate its waters. Also, a number of water birds including the African fish eagle as well as herons, kingfishers and hamerkops may be popular sightings one may not miss during this chilling voyage. Uganda Wildlife Authority charges about USD30 per person for this rewarding adventure on the lake.
The boat trips leave at specific intervals of 2hrs starting from 8am to 5:30pm
Mburo is home to about 6 fish species, most notable being the tilapia. Guests interested in fishing may be treated to a whole marvellous experience. The designated spot for this activity is at Mazinga and those interested are advised to carry their own fishing equipment and obtain a permit from the Uganda wildlife Authority.
NATURE WALKS/ WALKING SAFARIS
The Park can as well be explored on a walking safari with an armed guide. A nature walk to the salt lick would reward you with sights of a number of animals that often gather around the salty rocks to lick them. A timber viewing platform was put up to enable visitors view animals without destructing them.
A nature walk to Rubanga forest would be every birder’s reward as a number of bird species can be spotted on such a visit. The forest is home to about 40 bird species including; Grey-backed Cameroptera, Green Pigeon, Harrier Hawk and Narina Trogon among others.
You can have an opportunity to explore the park and its surroundings at the back of a horse. Mihingo lodge operates these safaris and can be booked prior in your package or you can request for it at the last minute subject to availability.
Riding among herds of zebras, impalas and elands is one of the most magnificent safari experiences one may ever have. You do not have to worry about your poor skills at riding a horse, your horse guide will give you proper instructions to help you enjoy this adventure. This activity has different packages, ranging from 30 mins to 5hrs depending on one’s expertise in horse riding.
With a horseback safari, you may catch better views of wildlife including the shy animals like Elands since there is no engine noise to scare away these animals. As you ride past different species, you may notice that some are even curious and want to get closer to horses since they don’t feel any threat from their presence. This enables guests to have one of the best experiences of game viewing.
For very active visitors who would wish to spend most of their days out there exploring a lot of things rather than staying in their lodge rooms or spending time in the vehicles, cycling could be a good adventure for you. A number of lodges around L. Mburo NP including Leopard tail, Mihingo lodge and Rwakobo Rock lodge offer cycling opportunities with mountain bikes.
Guests may need some guides to accompany them as they ride through villages outside the park to avoid getting lost. Please note that you can as well encounter a number of wildlife species as you ride in these neighbouring communities as animals do not know boundaries and they often stray into people’s farms and ranches outside the park. Make sure you book for this activity in advance such that bikes and everything are arranged in time.
A ride through local communities will not only help you to shade off the excess fat, but will also reward you with great experiences with the local people as well as beautiful scenic views of this area.
Rides may range from short flat trails to longer rides past hilly slopes and wide valleys depending on your preference.
CULTURAL/ COMMUNITY TOURS
For cultural enthusiasts or any other guest interested in understanding the culture and lifestyle of the Banyankole people of greater Ankole subregion, a cultural tour to the neighbouring community will give you a deep insight of these people.
The Banyankore, specifically the Bahima are known for their great love for their Ankole long horned cattle. Their strong bond with their cows may captivate you. Homesteads own large herds of this breed of cattle and what may surprise you is that regardless of their numbers, the owner will know them each by its name. These names are often given based on the character of the animal, skin colour, shape and nature of the horns or its mother among others.
During the community visit, you may not miss out on learning how ghee is extracted from milk as well as how other milk products are produced locally by the Bahima women. You will be taken through the daily house activities a woman does which are mostly related with cows or milk. For example, washing milk pots (okwoozya ebyaanzi), smoking them (okwiitira) and the entire process through which ghee is made (okuchunda)
You may also be oriented on how a traditional muhima man spends his day, right from the time the day breaks till when the sun sets. You may have a chance to participate in hand milking (okukama), grazing (okuriisa), giving cows water by pouring it in the water trough (okweshera) as well as bringing cows back home after a long day (okutaasya).
A tour to the nearby Igongo cultural centre will reward you with knowledge about the rich history of the Ankole kingdom and its prominent tales and myths. You may be fascinated to hear stories of their great heroes who fought ferociously during external raids from different kingdoms at the time. While here, you will also learn a lot about the norms and ancient beliefs of this society.
Unique fact: L. Mburo NP is the only park in Uganda with an impala. It is also the only park with horseback safaris in the entire country.